Year Joined MKLM: 2013
Country: El Salvador
City: Zaragoza, La Libertad
Ministry: Soy Nutrition Program and ACOMUJERZA cooperative
Ministry Area: Sustainable Development
Goals of Ministry: To increase (1) the nutritional outcome for preschool children, (2) emergency family assistance and (3) community outreach in three communities where long-term Maryknoll lay missioners have been living and working in El Salvador: Zaragoza, El Cedro and San Ramon.
Food insecurity is a chronic and growing problem in El Salvador. According to the United Nations, 3 million Salvadorans currently experience food insecurity, including 1 million severe cases. During the past year, the price of staple foods increased as much as 30% in many areas. For families in an impoverished community, this means less food to eat. In general, there has been more than a 20% increase in the number of people experiencing food insecurity since 2014.
From a broad perspective, this means that a significant portion of El Salvador is suffering from increased vulnerability to a variety of health, social and economic impacts associated with being food insecure. Without sufficient access to nutritionally adequate foods, families face an increased risk of hunger as well as a lower quality of life. When a household is food insecure, there is an array of harmful sacrifices that have to be made in order to ensure that food makes it to the table on a daily basis.
Overall, the Soy Nutrition Project responds to the challenges, targeting vulnerable children and families in need through a dynamic nutrition program, emergency food assistance and community wellness education. Understanding that children are our future and good nutrition in these early years is vital for their health and education, this project is a good investment in the lives of Salvadoran children, their families and communities. Moreover, through a mix of services tailored to the specific contexts of these communities facing poverty.
Melissa is from North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, but more recently lived in Long Beach, New York. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications from La Roche College, Pennsylvania, and a master of education in school counseling from Manhattan College, New York. She was director of campus ministry at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn. At La Roche, Melissa volunteered to advertise, promote and organize college events.
In El Salvador, Melissa with her husband, Peter, and children, Elijah and Evangelina, initially lived and worked in La India, a semi-rural community outside of Cojutepeque. Poverty was endemic and many homes lacked electricity and/or running water. Families struggled to make ends meet. Parents were often absent or working. This led to children spending their days on the streets, and they became vulnerable to the gangs that recruited in the area. She helped students to stay in school by promoting reading and literacy. Melissa encouraged children and youth to develop their unique gifts, talents and teamwork skills through recreational activities such as a games, other dynamics and painting. She provided education, personal development and recreational opportunities to the underserved children and youth through San Juan Bautista Parish.
In 2016 the Altman family moved to the town of Zaragoza, El Salvador, where Melissa served for six years at ACOMUJERZA, a cooperative that gives women, mostly mothers, an opportunity to earn a living by producing and selling clothing. As a Maryknoll lay missioner at ACOMUJERZA, Melissa helped with product development, leadership development and social media marketing. She continues to be involved in the cooperative and serves as a member of the marketing committee as well as the oversight committee.
In 2023, the Soy Nutrition Project expanded its outreach as it connects new communities to the nutritional benefits of soy, its byproducts and the project’s training programs. The center of operations (equipment and outreach) moved from San Ramón, where it had been operating for 28 years to the community of Zaragoza (two hours away and located outside the capital city of San Salvador). As the program expands in Zaragoza, emergency food assistance for vulnerable families in San Ramón will continue to be provided through a partnership with the local Parish of the Good Shepherd.